Ann Arbor lays off three planning unit employees, union files grievance
As the economy changes, Ann Arbor's Planning and Development Services Unit is scaling back to reflect a drop in building activity and revenues from permit fees.
Three city employees are losing their jobs in planning and development this holiday season but - through a union bumping process - are being reassigned to new duties in other areas of city government. Two administrative support specialists are starting new jobs at CTN television and in customer services, while a development services inspector is off to field operations.
Meanwhile, city officials have been interviewing candidates for the position of planning and development manager. The position was left vacant when Mark Lloyd resigned in June and has been filled on an interim basis by Wendy Rampson. The job will pay $72,469 to $119,573, according to the posting.
"It kind of makes me sick to my stomach that they're going to be laying off the rank-and-file employees while hiring new management," said Nicholas Nightwine, president of the city's AFSCME union. "Right now we are at minimum staffing. We've got people doing double the work they normally do to keep things up."
Nightwine said the union has a grievance pending against the city for the three layoffs - though it mostly stems from the union's belief that the city shouldn't be eliminating union jobs when there are temporary employees in city government doing AFSCME work that should be let go first.
City Administrator Roger Fraser declined to comment on the grievance when contacted by phone on Tuesday. But he said the city's construction code fund has experienced a significant reduction in revenue over the past year due to the economy and the three jobs being eliminated are directly tied to that fund.
Two other construction inspectors - one building inspector and one plumbing inspector - also have been reassigned to rental housing inspection, so the city is down a total of three inspectors who were funded through the construction code fund. The 27-employee unit now has five construction inspectors, six housing inspectors and four clerical workers.
The Planning and Development Services Unit supports the Planning Commission and all appeals boards. It also handles the city’s master planning, site plan review, rental housing inspections, historic preservation, zoning coordination, construction inspections, permits, and building, housing and sign enforcement.
Rampson said funding for construction code activities is limited to the revenue generated by those activities, and so the unit must adjust expenses in the face of significant revenue reductions. In addition to staff cuts, new service changes went into effect recently. That includes new hours of operation and changes to inspections, which are outlined in a memo from Rampson on the city's Web site.
Rampson said her unit has been doing its best to get a handle on the changing landscape. She said one of the challenges has been that permit revenues the city collects come from fees based on the value of construction and a lot of the activity lately has been from smaller projects.
She said the unit has seen a noticeable drop in commercial projects and large multiple-family projects, but not so much in smaller home remodeling.
"Our service is hurting," she said. "We aim to have an inspection turnaround within two days of a request and in some cases in November it was almost two weeks."
Though the city is working to address a multimillion-dollar budget deficit and laying off people, Rampson said it's important to fill the planning manager position because of the complexity of the Planning and Development Services Unit. However, she said she and others will be taking a close look at the unit's management structure.
Ryan J. Stanton covers government for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529.